With just a couple of days until the NHL’s draft festivities get underway Friday, the talk of the league is who will go first overall.
London Knights (OHL) center John Tavares has been considered the sure-fire No. 1 pick since he was about 14 years old. Swedish man-child defenseman Victor Hedman is considered by some to be a much more rare commodity. And another Ontario Leaguer, Brampton center Matt Duchene, is being called the closest thing to Steve Yzerman since, well, Steven Stamkos last year.
The first ever player taken No. 1 was winger Garry Monahan in 1963, a 16-year-old from the St. Michael’s Juveniles in Toronto, who never became a star. In the 46 years since the NHL instituted the draft, there have been a number of flops, the most famous being Montreal’s selection of Doug Wickenheiser over Denis Savard in 1980 and Ottawa choosing Alexandre Daigle in 1993, rather than Chris Pronger or Paul Kariya.
But you can’t be too hard on teams. The draft is always something of a crapshoot; projecting kids into NHL stars is never easy. More often than not, first overall selections go on to have respectable NHL careers, but some have also had stellar, even all-time great careers. With that in mind, we offer the Top 10 No. 1 NHL draft picks ever.
10. Eric Lindros, 1991
His inability to stay healthy is what keeps Lindros from being higher on this list. At his peak, big No. 88 was the most physically dominating player in the world, along with being one of the most skilled. He averaged more than a point per game during his career – much of which came at the height of the ‘dead puck’ era – including nearly a goal every two games. In 1995, Lindros won the Hart Trophy and the Lester Pearson Award. He also captained Team Canada at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, the year NHLers debuted at the Winter Games. No. 2 after Lindros, Pat Falloon, had 322 career NHL points.
9. Mats Sundin, 1989
The first European to be taken No. 1 overall, Sundin hasn’t won any major awards or a Stanley Cup, but is 25th all-time in NHL scoring and was a trailblazer for teenaged prospects from across the pond. No. 2 after Sundin, Dave Chyzowski, had 31 career NHL points.
8. Mike Modano, 1988
The highest-scoring American-born player of all-time, Modano is 29th on the NHL’s career scoring list and is likely to move up seven more spots next season. He has 13 25-plus goal seasons and eight 80-plus point years. In 1999, the career Star won a Cup in Dallas. Modano has also played for the United States nine times in senior men’s competition. The No. 2 selection in 1988, Trevor Linden, had 867 career NHL points.
7. Alex Ovechkin, 2004
Still has a lot of time to work on his career numbers, but two Hart Trophies, an Art Ross, two Rocket Richard Trophies and two Lester Pearson Awards before the age of 24 is nothing to sneeze at. No. 2 after Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, has a 1.26 points-per-game average.
6. Sidney Crosby, 2005
Crosby, too, has won the Art Ross and Hart Trophies and the Lester Pearson Award, but just once each. The youngest captain to ever win the Stanley Cup gets the nod over Ovechkin for just that reason. No. 2 after Crosby, Bobby Ryan, has 67 career NHL points to date and was a Calder Trophy finalist this year.
5. Gilbert Perreault, 1970
Perreault was a member of the famed “French Connection” line in Buffalo during the 1970s and played for Canada at the 1972 Summit Series, after just two years in the NHL; he later starred as Wayne Gretzky’s linemate at the 1981 Canada Cup. Perreault was the main building block for the expansion Buffalo Sabres and finished his career with 1,326 points in 1,191 games. He won the 1971 Calder Trophy and the 1973 Lady Byng Trophy. No. 2 after Perreault, Dale Tallon, had 336 career NHL points.
4. Guy Lafleur, 1971
One of the most charismatic players in NHL history, Lafleur was the best player in the world for a period during the 1970s. Between 1976 and 1978 he won three-straight Art Ross Trophies and Lester Pearson Awards, two Hart Trophies, a Conn Smythe Trophy and, over his whole career, five Stanley Cups. Known as “The Flower” in English Canada and “Le Demon Blond” in French Canada, Lafleur is 24th all-time in NHL scoring. No. 2 after Lafleur, Marcel Dionne, had 1,771 career NHL points.
3. Dale Hawerchuk, 1981
With 1,409 points, Hawerchuk ranks 18th all-time in NHL scoring. He was forever in the shadow of Gretzky, but remains one of the most skilled players ever. Hawerchuk won the Calder Trophy in 1982 after a 103-point season, his fourth-highest point total of his career. He still holds the record for assists in one period with five. No. 2 after Hawerchuk, Doug Smith, had 253 career NHL points.
2. Denis Potvin, 1973
The third blueliner to go first overall, Potvin was also the best. He’s the sixth-highest scoring defenseman in NHL history and only Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey have better PPG averages amongst the leaders. He was the first blueliner in NHL history to top 300 goals and 1,000 points. Oh, he also won four Stanley Cups with the Islanders, the 1974 Calder Trophy, three Norris Trophies and was the Hart Trophy runner-up in 1976. No. 2 after Potvin, Tom Lysiak, had 843 career NHL points.
1. Mario Lemieux, 1984
Lemieux was the biggest slam-dunk in NHL draft history, notching 133 goals and 282 points in 70 Quebec League games during his draft year. Arguably the most skilled player in NHL history, Lemieux went on to a legendary career stymied somewhat by health problems. He is seventh all-time in NHL scoring with 690 goals and 1,723 points in 915 games. Amongst the top-60 NHL scorers ever, only Peter Stastny and Mike Bossy have played less than 1,000 games – they’re Nos. 35 and 51. Lemieux won the Calder Trophy, six Art Ross Trophies, four Lester Pearson Awards, three Hart Trophies, two Conn Smythe Trophies, a Masterton Trophy and led the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and ’92. He was also a legendary international player for Canada, particularly making his mark alongside Gretzky during the 1987 Canada Cup.
If you enjoy this feature, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine for the exclusive countdown, Starting From 5, and other great features from the world of hockey.